HOLLYWOOD – Emmy season is already in full swing and Amazon Studios has spent this week pitching their contenders to Television Academy members at the historic Hollywood Athletic Club. Wednesday night, the spotlight was on Jill Soloway’s latest series, “I Love Dick.”
Now, before you let your imagination get away with itself you should know that the new series is an adaptation of Chris Kraus’ 1997 novel of the same name. The setting has changed, but it still focuses on Chris (Kathryn Hahn), a forty-something New York filmmaker who accompanies her older husband Sylvere (Griffin Dune) to Mofa, Texas where he’s setting up residency. Chris expects to then immediately travel to the Venice Film Festival where one of her films is supposed to screen, but is notified it’s been pulled from the festival over a music clearance issue (one we learn she just hoped no one would notice). After meeting the town’s mysterious artist and rancher Dick, (Kevin Bacon) she decides to stick around for a bit. In the first two episodes , Chris also meets the institute’s quirky handy woman, Devon (Roberta Colindrez), and becomes increasingly obsessed with Dick. So much so, that she starts an “art project” where she writes letters to him. This actually rekindles the sexual aspects of her marriage that Sylvere had previously referred to as dormant.
During an extended Q&A after the screening, Soloway, who is executive producer and directed at least one episode, seemed to understand the show could be challenging for some audiences, but was immensely proud of how it provided a rare “female gaze” on television or streaming. She was also thrilled by the fact that it is the only scripted program with a completely female writer’s room (to her knowledge).
“It was great because I think a lot of women had been the only woman in other writer’s rooms. Like the only girl in the car, the only girl in the room,” Soloway says. “And had been trying to play the role of ‘Be game. Be funny. Don’t offend. Be careful what you say.’ So, for them to be able to look everyone in the face and say, ‘There’s another woman’ got things going really lose really fast.”
She adds laughing, “And we just went downhill from there.”
Hahn, who is at her best in what was screened so far, had never heard of the book, but after reading it was “flabbergasted.”
“I keep thinking of [Chris’] journey this season like Richard Dreyfuss in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’” Hahn says. “He just sees that mountain and she just had to keep making it and making it. There is something about trying to define what that all encompassing draw is. There was also something crazy sexy and true about that little bit of madness that we become obsessed with.”
The always blunt Bacon admitted that after such a long career he was a little jaded at the beginning of production and thanked his wife Kyra Sedgwick for reminding him to have an “open heart” as filming began. He also had nothing but high praise for Soloway and the writing staff.
“I’ll first say talking about an all female writer’s group, leave it to a female’s writer’s room to create two of the best, well-rounded male characters that I’ve really read in a long time,” Bacon says referring to Dick and Sylvere. “Both of these guys end up being definitely male and definitely complex and definitely interesting. And y’know it’s kind of like the idea that somehow you’re not going to be able to deliver that is astounding to me.”
The moderator noted that Colindrez was recently quoted saying she wanted to see television take more risks. The Texas native, who got her break on the Broadway hit “Fun Home,” clarified her remarks.
“I think what I was referring to and what I want to see when I say I want TV, movies and theater to take more risks it’s as far as the kind of people we want to see,” Colindrez notes. “And I hold everyone accountable for that. Not only people that make the content, but also people that see it. I want audiences to take risks in what they are willing to see, who they are willing to get to know. I think we’re used to being told ‘Don’t talk to those people. Don’t talk about this people.’ And I want to see people that are not only ugly or different or scared or new. I want to see real people.”
Much of the evening’s conversation focused on the fact it’s still very rare for a show to be written, produced, directed and centered on women (or in this case, a singular female lead). There is a moment in the first two episodes where Chris dismisses Sofia Coppola in a conversation about filmmakers, while only propping up male directors. The line was partially improvised by Hahn, but Soloway admits it comes from a place of envy for many female creators unable to crack through that glass ceiling to let their voice be heard.
“It feels like there are not enough spots. It feels like there only gets to be one at a time. There’s Miranda July or there is Lena Dunham,” Soloway says. “And all these people I would never say anything horrible about but I felt that feeling, ‘Why them and not me?’ And I think that happens for women, people of color or queer people because if you’re a straight white man it’s kind of assumed that there is work for you out there. And everybody else we’re kind of reaching for our moment and you see somebody else get it and you can’t help but go, ‘That’s my moment that person got.’”
Hahn summed it up, discussing this “kind of second wave of feminism” that has touched the world and, specifically in this case, entertainment over the past decade.
“Like we have certain things that a lot of women paved the way for, but now we’re in this sort of area where certain things are not quite happening,” Hahn says. “Certain things have happened and thank god, but why not all of it? Why am I still not feeling it?”
“I Love Dick” premieres on Amazon Friday, May 12.